Phase-separation physics underlies new theory for the resilience of patchy ecosystems

Koen Siteur*, Quan-Xing Liu, Vivi Rottschäfer, Tjisse van der Heide, Max Rietkerk, Arjen Doelman, Christoffer Boström, Johan van de Koppel*

*Bijbehorende auteur voor dit werk

OnderzoeksoutputAcademicpeer review

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Spatial self-organization of ecosystems into large-scale (from micron to meters) patterns is an important phenomenon in ecology, enabling organisms to cope with harsh environmental conditions and buffering ecosystem degradation. Scale-dependent feedbacks provide the predominant conceptual framework for self-organized spatial patterns, explaining regular patterns observed in, e.g., arid ecosystems or mussel beds. Here, we highlight an alternative mechanism for self-organized patterns, based on the aggregation of a biotic or abiotic species, such as herbivores, sediment, or nutrients. Using a generalized mathematical model, we demonstrate that ecosystems with aggregation-driven patterns have fundamentally different dynamics and resilience properties than ecosystems with patterns that formed through scale-dependent feedbacks. Building on the physics theory for phase-separation dynamics, we show that patchy ecosystems with aggregation patterns are more vulnerable than systems with patterns formed through scale-dependent feedbacks, especially at small spatial scales. This is because local disturbances can trigger large-scale redistribution of resources, amplifying local degradation. Finally, we show that insights from physics, by providing mechanistic understanding of the initiation of aggregation patterns and their tendency to coarsen, provide a new indicator framework to signal proximity to ecological tipping points and subsequent ecosystem degradation for this class of patchy ecosystems.

Originele taal-2English
Aantal pagina's12
TijdschriftProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Nummer van het tijdschrift2
StatusPublished - 10-jan.-2023

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